"Captain" Ed Morissey almost gets a whole post correct today, proving he can think very well indeed when not belly-full of kool-Aid. Regarding recent events in Pakistan, he writes:
it appears as if Musharraf may have gained more support from moderates previously unhappy with him over his seizure of power. It also distracted Pakistan from his greatest political crisis, firing Chief Justice Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhry.The only major mistake Ed makes is to believe that Musharaff is serious about going after the extremists in his country, in madrassas or anywhere else. Empirical evidence strongly states the case that, whenever Musharaff makes statements designed to sound strong on Islamist terrorism, he's either playing to Western listeners or means specifically those extremists who don't support his rule. Other Islamist extremists get a free pass and often even a get-out-of-jail-free card. After six years of this, expecting the leopard to change its spots on the basis of one minor Islamist challenge to his power is a bit much. Indeed, it's unlikely Musharaff would have taken the course he did over the Red Mosque if he didn't need that distraction from the Chief Justice furore.
Musharraf still finds himself in a tough spot, and his next moves may have to be towards the secular moderates he aced out of power. He will eventually need the support of the Pakistan People's Party, led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, if he wants to marginalize the extremists that he originally relied on for power. That would mean re-opening the political process, a move which the US has pushed, but which comes with its own dangers.
Would that mean that extremists could get elected in Pakistan? Not likely, according to the Afghanistan Ambassador Said T. Jawad. I asked the Ambassador on Monday whether he feared a radical-Islamist takeover of Pakistan. He replied that the extremists only comprised less than 10% of Pakistan's population -- which would still put them in the millions, but not anywhere near enough to win a popular election. Jawad also expressed his confidence in the Pakistani military, which prefers secular rule and has a great deal of political influence.
Musharraf has talked about reinstituting democratic rule, but has conveniently pushed off the date for its return. He may need to rethink his reluctance if he wants to survive, and especially if he wants the support of the moderates in fighting the extremists who want his blood.
The rest of Ed's post is bang on the money in describing what Musharaff should do if he wants to stay sweet with the West. But I believe he won't.
One of the reasons he won't has to do with Ed's other, more minor, mistake. The Pakistani army may well be secular in character, but it and the ISI intelligence agency have been using Islamist terror groups as proxies for a lot longer than Bin Laden and Mullah Omar have been a problem to the West. There's absolutely no reason why, as long as they can keep it all plausibly deniable, they should stop doing so now. In fact, there's no sign at all that they've even considered doing so.
The other reason is that Musharaff doesn't want to take off his uniform. That's the whole point of the problem with the Chief Justice. It's the motive behind Musharaff's use of thugs as proxies to attack and kill protestors in Karachi back in May. The extremists of all stripes (not just fundementalists) he has relied on to bolster his power know where the bodies are buried and if he spurns them they will turn on him and expose those buried secrets - at which point the vast majority which are non-extremist will demand Musharaff's head on a pike. And the army will probably mount another coup to preserve order, at which point Pakistan will have a new dictator in uniform.
No, I don't think Mushraff will do what Ed suggests. Instead I believe he will keep on making meaningless and theatrical gestures like the one which Ed is so exited about, keep on pawning off threats to himself as international terrorists he has captured and keep on trying to keep his uniformed "presidency" alive.
Update Here's what the Afghan ambassador told Ed about Pakistan, from the transcript of his interview - which is well worth reading in full.
CQ: Are you concerned about the possibility of a coup in Pakistan by the same radical groups that created the Taliban? This is obviously something that is very close. Pakistan is your neighboring country and a lot of the people who cross the border back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan, they're very closely related to each other. Is that a concern for the Afghanistan government at this point in time?I can't imagine why Ed didn't quote that in full for his readers...
Ambassador Jawad: Not so much. We think that the Pakistani army is a very strong and capable institution, and they will be able to control Pakistan for a long time. They are in full control of Pakistan. We have in the past raised the issue of how wise it is for the military to support extremism. This is a separate issue, but I don't think that Pakistan is in danger of falling into the hands of the extremists. The extremists in Pakistan are a small minority. Despite the many changes that have taken place in Pakistan in the laws and others still they are not able to organize more than 9% of the votes in Pakistan. We think that if their political leadership in the civil society in Pakistan is strengthened, they will be able to fight the danger of extremism. What we need to focus on is to make sure that institutional support for extremism ends in Pakistan.